As you will read in my next post (tomorrow’s installment in the Canadian Food Experience Project), this is the most cherished Canadian recipe I know. It is a part of me, part of my family, part of my heart.
Recreating this dish, however, in a manner that was both true to the flavours and the love of my grandmother was no small task because she relied on a secret ingredient that I couldn’t in all good conscience continue to use … not in a blog and life that values local, fresh, natural, and, wherever possible, organic ingredients: Lipton’s Onion Soup mix. Why not? Read the label ……………………….. MSG? Corn syrup solids? Disodium what???
Ok, so you get the reason for the deconstruction of the recipe. The other challenge was what to do with the stock? My grandmother’s recipe relied on pale “vegetable water,” the byproduct of boiling her vegetables that accompanied things like roast beef. I make my own stock — however, I exclusively make chicken stock, not vegetable stock. Not that making vegetable stock is hard, but I suspect most of you are like me and don’t have it on hand. So what to use? Well, I chose a high-quality organic stock and then added my own chicken stock to it anyway (I couldn’t resist). What’s interesting is that not all organic stocks are equal. Compare the sodium levels in the one I used versus that of a private label product produced the store I shopped at. A great lesson in why we shouldn’t judge a product from the front of the package alone.
I realized from the contents of the Lipton soup mix that what it is adding, beyond chemicals and MSG “flavouring,” is sugar and thickeners. For the “sweet,” I caramelized the onions and simply used white sugar in my soup: all pretty straight forward. But, for the thickening agent, I opted for rice flour. It dissolved well, did the trick that wheat flour would have done, and it kept the dish gluten-free. My Grandmother may not have cared about the last bit, and you might not either, but some do, so there’s the solution.
So I built up the soup as planned and it tasted good … very good … but there was still something missing. The soup tasted right but lacked a certain je ne sais quoi which I will describe as a “depth” of flavour. My solution was inspired by the fact that the soup my grandmother served was usually garnished with Kraft Parmesan cheese and, though I don’t have the label for this, you will likely get the gist as to why I wasn’t going use this ingredient either. The solution, then, was a trick I learned from a cookbook author many years ago who wrote that in her family, they saved the rinds of their (fresh) Parmesan cheese and put these rinds in the freezer for later use in minestrone. I thought … hmm, why not? The result elevated my soup from a good rendition of my grandmother’s soup to “my grandmother’s soup.” In other words, with the Parmesan rinds produced a result that tasted great, fed the body, and which nourished the heart. Enjoy.
Prep Time: 60 minutes
Cook Time: 90 minutes
Total Time: 2½ hours
Grandma’s Hamburger Soup
- 1 large onion (2 cups) onion
- 1 tablespoon of bacon fat/lard/oil
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 1 cup celery, chopped (roughly 2 stalks)
- 1 cup parsnip, cubed (1-2 parsnips)
- 1 cup carrot, cubed (1-2 carrots)
- 1 litre high-quality, low-sodium vegetable stock
- 1 litre high-quality, low-sodium chicken/beef stock
- 1 cup of tomato (1 large tomato) skinned and seeded and diced
- 1 cup of potatoes, cubed
- 1 cup Swiss chard leaves, (2 large leaves), stocks and veins removed and cut into thick strips
- 1 cup zucchini, cubed (1 medium zucchini)
- 600g (1lb 6oz) extra-lean organic ground beef
- 1 clove roasted garlic
- 2 tablespoons of rice flour
→ or substitute wheat flour if gluten isn’t an issue
- 2-4 tablespoons celery leaves (tops)
- 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon (1-2 sprigs) fresh thyme, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon (2-3 leaves) fresh sage, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 teaspoons of salt (to taste depending on your stock)
- 1-2 tablespoons of sugar
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 120 grams (4 ounces) Parmesan rind
- Heat a heavy-bottomed stainless steel soup pot over medium-high heat. Melt bacon fat (for extra flavour) or oil. Add onions and fry for 1 minute before reducing temperature to low — continue to cook, stirring regularly, for an additional 15 minutes until onions have almost totally caramelized.
- Increase temperature to medium. Add butter and celery, carrot, and parsnip and cook until root veggies have slightly browned (approximately 5 minutes). Remove veggies from pot and set aside.
- Over medium-high heat, brown the meat, making sure to stir regularly to break up all the meat. Leave about 3 tablespoons of fat in the bottom of the pan and drain off and discard the rest.
- Add roasted garlic and rice (or wheat) flour and mix in well and cook for about 2 minutes until starch has activated and combined with the fat.
- Add in all the herbs: celery tops, parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary and bay leaf.
- Deglaze pan with a spash of vegetable stock (get all the lovely brown bits off the bottom of the pot) …… stir in the remainder of the stock.
- Bring to a low boil, then add caramelized veggies, the potatoes and tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, and sugar. Add Parmesan rinds (whole). Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 60 minutes.
→ Note: you may reduce or increase your salt depending on how much sodium is in your stock.
- Add zucchini and chard. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary and simmer, covered, for 30 more minutes.
- Remove from heat and serve with crusty bread, Ryvita, or cracks and relive a childhood past.